Gracious, it is pretty out there!

These past few days have been absolute perfection. The sort of weather that makes you grateful to be alive and live in a place such as this.

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Having a soft spot for gray and rainy days as well, I’ve been enjoying the slow starts and drizzly mornings, but the afternoons we’ve been having with the bright blue sky and soft sunlight coming through the leaves just exploding with color … wow.

The showstopper, of course, is the sugar maple.

As fall arrives and the leaves change from summer green to blazing scarlet there’s just nothing like it. It’s breathtaking each and every year.

When we think of autumn in Maine, it’s these fancy-dancy deciduous beauties that come to mind. However, let’s all pause for a moment to admire my own personal favorite tree, the hackmatack.


Also known as the tamarack, or more properly as the larch (larix laricinia if you want to be really formal about it), the hackmatack is an iconic Maine tree.

According to the Maine guide to forest trees at, the hackmatack is found throughout our state in scattered stands of varying sizes. It grows quite tall, to heights of 50-60 feet, and is “most commonly found in cool, swampy places, although it also grows in well-drained soil.” It’s adaptable, that’s my point. A necessary trait for thriving in Maine.

The hackmatack has strong ties to Maine culture as well. The rough-grained, heavy wood isn’t so much used for interiors or furniture. However, due to its natural rot-resistant properties, it is often used for the necessary and practical stuff, such as posts, railroad ties, dog sleds and fish traps.

What’s more, because it often grows in boggy areas, it tends to grow shallow roots, which results in really strong knees, the part of the root that takes a right angle from the tree. These knees have been used in traditional wooden boat-building for centuries.

What really sets the hackmatack apart, however, is its own autumnal display. Unlike most conifers, which keep their needles and remain evergreen throughout the year, hackmatack turn a deep, mustard gold in the fall and drop their needles for the winter, only to grow new, soft, delicate needles come spring. It is one of only three conifers – and the only one native to Maine – to do so.

Every fall as the maples start to flare, many a metaphor emerges about the beauty of embracing change and letting go. I enjoy them all. But, to my mind, those lessons take on an extra layer when the tree in question is one that, though perhaps not as breathtakingly vivid, is bucking the trend and goes its own way. That’s a tree I admire.

The hackmatack is a solid, resourceful and beautiful tree. This fall, I suggest you pour yourself a mug of hot apple cider, don your favorite sweater (and maybe some blaze orange) and head out into the woods to admire it in all its glory.

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